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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
The Legacy, poem by Mona Zahra Attamimi.
Paradise is at the feet of the mother
How did I survive your mothering?
You were shaped by silence and mirrors, drawn
to the angles, rubies, the flowery mihrab
embroidered and sewn into the prayer mat
by the ailing women of your childhood.
In your silk white tunic you were carved to fit the divine.
Schooled to muscle the bag of sacrifice,
you shouldered your mother’s scars and blisters,
but in motherhood, you never prayed for my placenta,
never clawed the earth to bury it in the garden bed
of our Jakarta home. Escaping your paradise
was the longest thirty thousand days of my life.
On the path to emancipation, I erased memories,
tossed away pictures of my baby hands squeezing
your breasts. But why give you a piece of love —
that rainbow shoes bought at the market in Delhi?
When twilight came I wished for blessings
I found Mister Badrish, the astrologer, in a Hajj kopiah,
white kameez, polishing a time-wheel; he chanted
and rinsed our bowl of sins in the Yamuna;
when I wished for a talisman to shade me from the world
I bowed to Kali in the minarets of Qutb Minar.
That hair —a crown of flames — anklets of lapis lazuli
gleaming at her feet, her gown silvered in white gold,
but those sharp teeth, her ferocious eyes
drove the nightmare of you into my blood. Your fury,
Mother, stunk of used cotton balls dripping acetone.
There were stirrings, the horrors of my girlhood,
shrieks of attic madness, the voices of dead women
banging in my ear, blowing my life to ruin.
Let me forget the time you leered at me. I begged
to forget the time you carried on painting red nails
and rouging cheeks, glossing lips as my nose bled.
I read your face before you detached, slithered
behind a mask, before you caught me gazing at the hole
in your back. That night I locked myself in a broom closet,
I taped my mouth. When I breathed again, I flew,
and fell, landing on my chest in prostration on the marbles
of Masjid Al Haram. Surah Al Fatiha on my lips, a haze
of burning incense swirled on my breath, and you
vanished, smoked out of my head.
When all was quiet, my bones asleep, a knitter
of wounds knocked at my door with cures
and balms in hands dark as water, the blackest stones
on her fingers. Half of her was Kali,
the other half, hidden in the folds of her thick cloak
was your mother. Perfume bottles clinkedclanked
in soft purses. Her hair, uncoiled and crimson,
as she leaned in, as she stroked my thumb, read my palms,
whiffed of fury. Before light, she fled.
Trees, blue and grey in the fog of dawn, resembled
awakened souls collecting lost pieces of themselves.
A shadow glimmered on the windowpane
with a look so familiar, and there, glaring at my old age,
unleashing old dread was my inheritance — your gloom,
your stare, those water-brown eyes — stamped on my face.
© Mona Zahra Attamimi
Mona Zahra Attamimi is Yemeni-Indonesian and lives on the unceded land of the Bediagal people. She lived as a child in Jakarta, Washington DC and Manila, before moving to Australia at age nine. Her poems have been published in Meanjin, Cordite, Antipodes, Best Australian Poetry, Contemporary Asian Australian Poets Anthology and To Gather Your Leaving: Asian Diaspora Poetry. Currently, she is writing her first collection – poems about fractured roots, dislocation, reimagining mythologies through a feminist perspective. She has read at regular poetry events, performed at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and the Ubud Writer’s Festival, and translated the poetry of the acclaimed Indonesian poet, Dorothea Rosa Herliany into English. She is the co-founder of the online poetry platform, Sun Talks. In 2019, she was the recipient of the Asialink Arts Emerging Writing Residency, in Bandung, Indonesia.